Set in a majestic beach cove along 3.2 miles of pristine Orange County beach, they are some of the most affordable and beautifully-located vintage cottage rentals in all of California. They are also some of the hardest to reserve.
Part of why these historic cottages at Crystal Cove State Park is due to the limited number available: 12 individual cottages and three dorm-style ones (where a total of 10 rooms can be rented). Last week, after three years of fundraising and 18 months of restoration work by the non-profit Crystal Cove Alliance, that twelfth individual cottage made its debut.
The Soda Shack, so dubbed because it once served as the original store -- complete with a soda fountain, of course -- now sleeps four for $155 per night. Reservations can be made up to seven months in advance with new dates available on the first of each month at 8 a.m. PST. Like all the cottages, those slots seven months down the calendar fill up within minutes. Only those lucky enough to catch a cancellation on reserveamerica.com, where reservations are taken (you can check 24/7 or sign up to be notified of cancellations on a certain date), will score a cottage after monthly rush of reservations (Another tip: sometimes, last-minute cancellations occur, allowing walk-ups after 11 a.m.)
Additionally, the handicap-only Creekside Studios cottage opened in August and 60 campsites near -- but not on -- the beach were revealed in July. Several backcountry campsites can also be found be a few miles inland.
A popular film set and camping retreat for Hollywood filmmakers in the 1920s, the 48 cottages of Crystal Cove built by a community living out the California dream were listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the last vestiges of California's "beach vernacular architecture" in 1979. Later that year, the land, which through this period was owned by the Irvine Company, was sold to California State Parks, and 22 years later the state evicted residents to make way for a luxury resort, a plan that was protested and eventually defeated.
Instead, the Crystal Cove Alliance, which was instrumental in the preservation of the historic cottages, became the official nonprofit partner with state parks in the restoration, education and conservation for all of Crystal Cove State Park, which includes the 46 cottages that are still standing, several that opened to the public in 2006. Today, 29 are restored: 15 are available rent (remember, three are dorm-style ones) and 14 are used for a variety of services and operations like the Beachcomber Cafe, a museum and a marine research facility. Planning efforts are underway for how to best restore remaining 17 cottages, a project that will require raising $20 million.